Music in Our Schools Month, officially designated by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), is an annual celebration during the month of March that engages music educators, students, and communities from around the country in promoting the benefits of high-quality music education programs in schools. It began as a single statewide Advocacy Day and celebration in New York in 1973 and grew over the decades to become a month-long celebration of school music in 1985.
Its purpose is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children — and to remind citizens that schools is where all children should have access to music.
In an area that is known for its emphasis on the performing arts, Centre County schools boast some of the best music teachers and young, talented musicians in Central Pennsylvania.
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The music programs in State College are unique in their scale and variety. For band, choir, and orchestra, there are multiple ensembles ranging in difficulty and size.
Paul Leskowicz performs dual roles as the State College High School director of bands and as the coordinator of music for the school district.
“The district has a comprehensive choral and instrumental program,” he says. “At the high school level, it continues to blossom in terms of the opportunities and different groups that are available.”
State College offers 10th-grade band and choir, with 10th-grade string players joining up with 11th- and 12th-grade string players to make up the symphony orchestra. It also has 11th- and 12th-grade band and choir, concert choir, and concert band. Altogether, the school has four different bands, three different choirs, and three orchestras, with 11th- and 12th-grade choirs broken up into men’s and women’s choirs.
Leskowicz is very proud of the program that has been built at State College, the history of the program, and the many students who have gone on to do great things.
“Our biggest goal is reaching every student as much as possible to have a meaningful experience in music — something that they can take with them for the rest of their life,” he says. “That’s our number one mission.”
Originally from Toronto, Canada, State College senior Annie Liu participates in symphonic band, symphony orchestra, and wind quintet. She has had the honor of participating in All-State Band in 2015 and 2016, All-National Band 2016, and has been accepted to All-Eastern Band 2017.
She finds that the wide variety of classes and ensembles as well as the opportunity to work with Penn State’s music department and the chances to play within the community elevates State High music and makes it a stellar program.
“I think music is essential to schools and to all lives,” she says. “Bringing music to the rest of the student body not only allows the musicians to have performance experience but also shows the students the sort of work we do in the music program. Additionally, music evokes emotion, self-reflection, and joy, which we could all use a little more of.”
State College senior and trumpet player Christopher Bagley participates in the marching band as its president and co-rank leader, in the concert band as president, in master singers, in Jazz Band I, and in the Tri-M Music Honors Society as the secretary and treasurer.
“Not only does [the music program] allow each student to improve their skills but it also allows them to learn how to work together, how to serve as a leader or administrator, how to teach, and how to balance various technical aspects of music with the emotion intrinsic to its performance,” he says.
While he doesn’t seek to pursue music professionally, he certainly doesn’t see himself giving it up either.
“As I enter college, I hope to play trumpet in the Penn State University Marching Blue Band and/or a jazz ensemble,” he says. “I certainly will continue to play for my own love of the instrument.”
State High senior Mariana Corichi grew up in Mexico City and has lived in State College on and off for 10 years. She plays the flute and sings in master singers, chamber singers, NVCC Concordia Singers, and Orpheus Singers. Last year, she ranked first chair in PMEA District IV Chorus & Region III Chorus and then third chair at the all-state festival.
For her, State College has been a flourishing and encouraging music environment with skilled and nurturing teachers who help students get to the next level, whether they are interested in music on an amateur or professional level.
“On a basic level, music helps a lot of students relax and step away from their stressful life,” she says. “Performing and listening to music has the same effect on most of us, so having daily entertainment is a sweet thing to look forward to.”
She plans to major in music in college, focusing on vocal studies, and go onto graduate school for choral conducting or vocal performance, or both. One professional goal of hers is to return to Mexico City and initiate youth choral programs.
“Mexico has very few music programs in schools or communities in general, so the fact that students are given the chance play an instrument in fourth grade is still amazing to me and my family,” she says. “Seeing how Mexican school systems lack choral education and choral culture as a whole, I will initiate the conversation with adolescents and young adults, creating opportunities I never came across when I was younger.”
Arts programs are sometimes the first to be cut when school budgets are tightened, so it is critical this time of year to keep music education the focus of schools across the nation as well as here in the heart of Central Pennsylvania.
“It’s very short-sighted to cut because you’re missing an opportunity to develop students with language-acquisition skills and their reading comprehension,” Leskowicz says. “You have the joy of making music and you have the opportunity to improve your skills as a person — it’s a win-win situation.”
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The Bellefonte Performing Arts department consists of eight music teachers serving six buildings. The programs include a K-12 choral curriculum, with string and band instrumental ensembles starting in the fourth grade. All students in the district take music classes through seventh grade. Music class electives at the high school include piano, an introductory and Advanced Placement (AP) music theory, voice, theater classes for technical and musical history, rock studio, chamber music, and music technology recording.
“The entire music department is very active and extensive, offering lots of opportunities in multiple disciplines for a wide variety of students,” says Jay Zimmerman, Bellefonte High School band director and fine arts department coordinator for the Bellefonte Area School District. “The goal is not just to get the Bellefonte students to perform at a high level but also to learn, explore, and appreciate this gift of music that will enrich their souls for the rest of their lives.”
The high school music department offers a band program that includes marching band, concert band, jazz band, and the competitive winter season indoor groups for percussion, majorettes, dance, and color guard.
Senior Noah Gaus is a member of the band, choir, chorale, jazz band, marching band, full orchestra, indoor dance, and drama club. He was drum major in the fall and also has been the bass section leader in choir the past two years.
For Gaus and so many others, the Bellefonte music program is a big family and provides a sort of home away from home.
“I also think that the size of our program is special, as well,” he says. “We are large enough to have all the groups we do, but also small enough that we can all do multiple groups if we so choose.”
If he had the time, Gaus says he could name 100 reasons why music in local schools is so important and 100 more ways it impacts students’ lives.
“It’s important because music is the common language of the whole world — we can communicate anything through music,” he says. “Also, it is very important because it teaches the students many lessons that the typical classroom just cannot. Music impacts students by letting them see and hear what hard work can truly do.”
Senior Lidgett is in the orchestra and participates in PMEA orchestra festivals, is a two-time All-State Orchestra violinist, and will be a violinist in the upcoming 2017 NAfME All-Eastern Orchestra, which is composed of students from 11 northeastern states. As someone who values the traditional and core academic subjects, he still strongly believes music is an essential part of the curriculum in schools.
“In addition to simply being essential for artistic expression, being involved in music programs teaches you skills of collaboration and time management that are invaluable skills for adolescence and adulthood,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most successful students in school are all musicians.”
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Penns Valley High School offers various music courses, including concert band, jazz band, marching band, concert choir, chamber choir, music theory, and guitar. The performing groups participate in at least three concerts per year, and students regularly perform at PMEA district and region level events for band, chorus, and jazz band.
In addition, Penns Valley students are frequently participants at the PMEA all-state level in both band and chorus. Last year, two students, Keith Griffith and Virginia Stattel, were selected to the PMEA All-State Chorus, and Raven Althouse was selected to the PMEA All-State Wind Ensemble. Stattel also was selected to the NAfMe All-Eastern Mixed Chorus that will be held April 5-8 in Atlantic City.
“Penns Valley Area School District values music education and has made sure that we can provide outstanding events not only for our own students but also for the students of PMEA Region III,” says Phil Stattel, choir director at Penns Valley. “For a school that averages around 100 students per grade, our music students get the experiences that a larger school would offer, with a much more personalized experience.
“I am proud to have had my two children attend Penns Valley, not only for the musical experiences they have had but also for the first-class all-around education they have received. As the motto of our school says, ‘It’s a great day to be a Ram.’ ”
At Penns Valley, the music programs strive to help all students become musicians first, so that even if they don’t pursue a career in music they will be able to better enjoy what is all around them.
“Music should be an integral part of every student’s education — it connects us with what it is to be human,” Stattel says. “Music touches your heart and mind in ways that other fields of study just can’t come close. We believe the best way to experience music is to first make it yourself so that you can appreciate even better those who do it extremely well, whether it be your favorite country or pop star or classical musician.”
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The Bald Eagle Area School District has four elementary schools. All students in grades K-5 have music class two times per six-day cycle. Students in grades 4 and 5 also can participate in band and chorus.
“These are great opportunities for students to enhance their music education,” says Kellie Long, director of bands for grades 6-12 at Bald Eagle Area. “My son is a student at Wingate Elementary, where he is in second grade. He absolutely loves music class!”
The Bald Eagle Area High School Marching Band has marched in many high-profile parades, such as the New York City Veterans Day Parade in 2009 and 2015, and the 2012 National Independence Day Parade in Washington, DC, where it was the only band from Pennsylvania.
“Our community and school district are very proud of our band,” Long says. “They are a fine representation of just a small portion of the great music department that we have at Bald Eagle Area.”
She says that the music department is often so busy preparing for a concert or a performance that it tends to forget to take the time to celebrate music and how important it is.
“Music in Our Schools Month is great way to take a step back and remember how important music is, why we started to play our instrument or sing, and why we love and appreciate music so much,” she says. “It also allows us to educate others on the importance of music in schools, and it allows us to thank our administration and our school board who are so incredibly supportive of music at Bald Eagle Area.
“It is also important to thank the teachers who help students in younger grades to remember their instruments for their lesson the next day. Those teachers are so appreciated and rarely receive the thanks that they deserve.”
Long believes that in order to be successful in music, it takes a whole team of people, and it starts with the elementary music teachers that students have in kindergarten.
“My advice to anyone that music has ever touched is to take a moment this March and say ‘Thank you’ to someone who helped you be successful along the way in music,” she says. “You may not have become a music teacher. You might be a nurse, an elementary teacher, a lawyer, or a police officer, but I bet somewhere along the way music touched your life.”